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Erin Tocknell walks through a sculpture Friday, April 8, 2016 during the kick-off celebration for the opening of the Sculpture Fields at Montague Park.

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Sculpture Fields at Montague Park

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Saturday Schedule

8 a.m. yoga class, tai chi demonstration and a walking meditation

9:30 a.m. Meet the Artist Walk – many of the park’s featured artists on site

11 a.m. artist talk - Carl Billingsly, sculptor

Noon - 2 p.m. Music by jazz trio “Charlie the Head”

2 p.m. artist talk - Terry Karpowicz, sculptor

2:30 p.m. Meet the Artist Walk – many of the parks featured artists on site

3 – 5 p.m. music by Nashville artist Rory Carroll

It's open. After nearly a year and a half of work, a $1.2 million investment and several thousand truckloads of dirt, Sculpture Fields at Montague Park is now open to the public seven days a week.

Commanding a 33-acre plot of man-made hills and winding footpaths, the park in the 1100 block of East 23rd Street is now home to 27 large-scale sculptures made of steel and concrete and perched throughout like monolithic, frozen creatures on grassy plinths. And more are to come.

Only phase one has been completed, but over the next few years, additional phases will bring dozens more sculptures, improved landscaping, and a visitors center.

The founder and curator of the park, internationally-renowned sculptor John Henry, kicked off the two-day grand opening at 6 p.m. Friday with the help of Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, See Rock City CEO Bill Chapin and the keynote speaker, Tony Jones, president of the Kansas City Arts Institute.

For Jones, a man who has seen other parks crop up across the country like Millenium Park in Chicago, home to the world-famous Bean sculpture, Chattanooga has taken a massive step in creating such a park, and the effects could be dramatic

"People want to come and people want to see art," he said. "This sculpture field will become a magnet for growth — this will become an economic generator."

He pointed to parks in other cities, saying some of the more established ones bring in over $1 billion in additional revenue for the city.

But money aside, the realization of a site designated for sculptures in the heart of Chattanooga demonstrates a growing desire for cultural development in the Scenic City.

"Without the artists, this park would be meaningless," said Henry.

For many Chattanoogans, the new park holds enormous significance, because in the center of it all towers what is by far the largest sculpture, "Anchors," a steel and concrete monument designed by Peter Lundberg to memorialize the five victims of the July 16 shootings last year. An American flag waves a few dozen feet from the foot of the giant next to a plaque listing the names of the men who died that day.

"Art imbues meaning to a community," Berke said, standing in front of "Anchors."

"Art is helping us make sense of the senseless."

The park is free to enter, and visitors are encouraged to come and walk among the monuments at their leisure, especially on Saturday while the grand opening continues. Artists will be on site throughout the day to talk about their work, and several musical groups will be performing in the afternoon.

While wandering the park, visitors can also download the Otocast app onto their smartphone to access a map of the sculptures with commentary by the artists.

On Friday night, some visitors were already taking in the sights, walking up and down hills from one sculpture to the next. Margaret Tocknell of Jacksonville, Fla., was in town visiting her daughter when they decided to come to the park for the grand opening.

"It's really terrific," she said. "You don't get to see large-scale sculptures very often."

For the artists and the workers behind everything that brought Sculpture Fields to fruition, it's a sentimental moment and one that has been a long time coming. On Friday, there was a buzz in the massive, open-air gallery, equal parts pride and hope for the future of Chattanooga's most recent attraction.

Looking out over the field, Henry said, "It's the culimnation of a long, long exercise in trying to bring something to Chattanooga that would be important."

Contact staff writer Emmett Gienapp at egienapp@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6731.

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